When the weather is damp and depressing, nothing beats a good walk to fight the blues. The legendary Berliner Luft never disappoints – even in the drizzle. It must be something to do with all the forests and lakes that encircle the city and breathe into the atmosphere. With these positive thoughts in mind a couple of Sundays ago, we donned our waterproofs and ventured forth to Treptow, a district of south-east Berlin traditionally associated with boat trips, picnics by the Spree and general merriment. In autumn the scene was all mists and mellow fruitfulness. The trees in Treptow Park were a riot of colour and the waters were dead calm. No crowds, of course, just a few walkers and Sunday morning joggers to puncture the stillness.
The path through the forest to the Spree
We started our walk at Plänterwald S-Bahn station, headed down Am Plänterwald and crossed the Neue Krugallee into the Plänterwald forest. Interestingly, Plänterwald has recently been voted the top ‘Kiez’ (neighbourhood) in Berlin. Local families have a wide choice of affordable housing and a vast playground of woods, parks and river to enjoy, yet they are only a few train stops from the city centre. Once in the Plänterwald the dense tall trees were more than enough to keep us dry and after about 20 minutes we were alongside the fenced-off and abandoned Spreepark with a clear view of the rusty old Ferris wheel stretching into the grey sky. In GDR days (1969-89) this area was a huge amusement park, the only one in Berlin, and it managed to keep going for two years after reunification until its new owner declared himself insolvent. He fled to Peru, shipping some of the attractions with him and ended up in prison for smuggling cocaine. For full details of this story and some amazing photographs it is worth following the link to Abandoned Berlin. Although officially closed to the public, for several years the Spreepark was used as a film location and from 2011 there were even guided tours on offer. But on the evening of 10th August this year, major parts of the park were destroyed in a fire and now it is well and truly out of bounds.
A remnant of the Spreepark
When we reached the banks of the Spree we turned left towards the city centre and had the towpath more or less to ourselves. The air was still and as the clouds lifted, the trees were quietly drying off. The scenery on the opposite bank is mainly industrial but as we rounded the bend at the top of the Spreepark, the river widens into a lake dotted with islands and the Alt-Stralau peninsula, a popular destination for hot, lazy afternoons.
An aerial view of Alt Stralau, with the Plänterwald in the foreground and the city centre in the distance
We had been walking for about an hour at this point and had reached the ‘Klipper’ restaurant boat. It was definitely time for brunch, the essential meal for any perfect Berlin Sunday. The ‘Klipper’ has an idyllic mooring looking out over the Spree, opposite the pretty ‘Insel der Jugend’. There are tables inside the boat itself, in a wooden cabin or on the decking area, built out over the gently lapping waters. As we arrived, the sun was making a valiant effort to break through so we chose the fresh air option, gratefully accepting the customary red blankets on offer to cover both the wooden seats and our knees. The ‘Klipper’ laid on a memorable brunch, a veritable feast on an autumn backwater, away from weekend tourist hordes.
The Klipper restaurant and its wooden cabin
Well-fortified, we continued along the river bank into Treptow Park, soon passing the ‘Zenner’, a large white building reminiscent of GDR days. It advertised dances for ‘oldies’ and parties in the beer garden and boasted its own traditional restaurant plus a Burger King. Treptow now definitely had the feel of an off-season seaside resort, its riverside grounds dotted with dormant rose gardens and flowerbeds and fountains taking their winter rest. There were pleasure boats moored up alongside the Spree and dinghies for hire, but none out on the water.
Summer by the Spree in Treptow Park
We turned left, away from the river, towards Pushkinallee, the busy main road lined with tall poplar trees which runs through the middle of Treptow Park. On the other side was our afternoon destination, the vast Soviet Memorial to commemorate the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in April–May 1945. There are two main stone gates into this part of Treptow Park, one on the north side and one on the south side, both of them large and sombre. This is the main Soviet War Memorial in East Germany and it also serves as a cemetery for 5,000 of the fallen.
Treptower Park Soviet Memorial from above (in summer)
The focus of the Treptow Park memorial is a 12 metre tall statue of a Soviet soldier with a sword, holding a German child and standing over a broken swastika. Laid out at his feet is a central area lined on both sides by 16 stone sarcophagi, one for each of the then 16 Soviet Republics, with relief carvings of military scenes and quotations from Stalin on one side in Russian, on the other side the same text in German. This area is the final resting place for some 5000 soldiers of the Red Army. At the opposite is a portal consisting of a pair of stylized Soviet flags built of red granite, flanked by two statues of kneeling soldiers. It is said that the red granite came from the ruins of Hilter’s Reich Chancellery building. Beyond the portal, as you first enter the par, is a further sculpture, a figure of Mother Russia weeping for her lost sons. The overall effect of these symbolic monuments, in such a beautiful parkland setting, is breath-taking.
Symbolic Soviet monuments
Over the past 30 years I have visited the Soviet Memorial in Treptow Park scores of times, accompanying coachloads of tourists or groups of students and it never fails to impress. In Cold War days it was an especially stark reminder to visitors from the West of Berlin’s significance for the Soviet people. In winter we would stand warming our hands round a cup of coffee by the refreshment stall (which no longer exists) and reflect on Berlin’s division. Nowadays, Treptow Park is only a short walk into Neu-Kölln in West Berlin and no Berlin Wall to block the way. On the eastern side, the S-Bahn from Treptower whizzes you over the Elsenbrücke to Ostkreuz and on to Alexanderplatz.